Tuesday, September 9, 2014

The Ideal Smash Mouth Setlist

When I was 10, the biggest band in the world (or at least my life) was Smash Mouth. I, like so many other ten-year-olds, saw Shrek, and judging from the ultra-catchy singles (“I’m A Believer” and the ubiquitous “All Star”) Smash Mouth was the coolest band ever. I was stunned to find that “I’m A Believer” was a cover and immediately disregarded the original, without even listening to it. I went out to buy Astro Lounge and when I found it sold out, picked up their self-titled third album instead1, which inevitably became my 2001 album of the year. Promptly, I did my music report in 5th grade band class on Smash Mouth. It was established: Smash Mouth would be my favorite band forever.

Fast forward ten years. I went to college, probably having not listened to Smash Mouth since junior high. I thought those days were over. Then, I accidentally hear them again. It was probably All Star; like I said, that song is everywhere. This led to me listening to [then all existing] five of their albums in a row, a conversation with a friend, and a misguided Myspace message to the guitarist. I began to feel badly because no one was taking Smash Mouth seriously anymore. It sparked something in me that was tongue-in-cheek at first and then something I had to do. I had to create an ultimate live setlist, a perfect night with the band.

I set about putting together songs in the optimum order. Believe me: this is not the first iteration of this listing. I have rearranged this several times until I was happy with it2. Every song has been carefully considered and has a reason for being there. I included the right mix of hits and deep cuts--as well as some fan service to me with some of my favorites. Think of this as a reunion tour set, two hours of the best of Smash Mouth. My goal was for this to be played at a party and really get people thinking. I’m not sure that ever happened, but all the same, I am nothing but proud of the final product.

Let me set the figurative stage, as it were: we are in an eclectic outdoor venue just outside of San Jose. The ocean is only a block away. Rain has been threatening all day, but the skies have cleared in the last few hours. There is a gorgeous sun setting red over the beach. There is no opening act; it’s all about Smash Mouth this evening. The lineup is the four original members. Steve Harwell is singing. The late Kevin Coleman (RIP) is on drums. Paul De Lisle has the bass. Greg Camp is playing guitar. I imagine some great Fush Yu Mang-era banter from the band. The band is supposed to take the stage at 9:00, but it’s now about quarter after. Just when the tension could be no higher, a dull roar rises from the front of the crowd. Steve walks on-stage to thunderous applause and wipes a few tears from his eyes. The rest of the band fills in behind him. This is it, the moment thousands of people have been waiting for. The band is in place; fans are going crazy; and they launch into:

“Holiday in My Head” I’m a big fan of bands opening with tracks that are also opening album tracks. And this one establishes what everyone already knows. Smash Mouth is the biggest summer band of the decade. Everyone is smiling. The band is having fun, and the audience is, of course, responding.

“Everyday Superhero” Within ten minutes, everyone in the audience knows this will be a fun show. By the time the chorus hits, everyone is fist pumping to the sky in pure excitement.

“Hang On” This flows directly from the last song, continuing the good feelings. Although it is from a lesser-known album, people still groove to the music.

“The In Set” As Steve banters a bit with the crowd and the rest of the band, stagehands drag out an elaborate mixing station. This is followed shortly by a sound technician wearing a black T-shirt and a backwards ballcap. Adjusting levels and turning knobs, the pre-recorded intro fuzzes into the venue. The band takes off on this little known number from their self-titled. Fans dance wildly, and there is an extra loud cheer at the words, “It’s no secret this is our big show!”

“Magic” As the chants continue, rapper, J. Dash walks on stage with a second microphone. Some fans are knowingly aware of what’s coming. To promote their newest album, Smash heads into the first and only single. More recent fans for whom Magic is influential gold, sing along to every word, even Dash’s rap.

“So Insane” Here it is only five songs into the set and a group of fans have formed a mosh pit near the front of the stage. It’s about par for the course with this song. Steve knows it, and much to the chagrin of security, encourages a fan on stage, typifying the art of being “so insane.”

“Then the Morning Comes” Possibly the group’s next-most famous song. One that everyone can surely sing along with. And they do. Blue lights dance across the screens at the back of the stage.

“Diggin’ Your Scene” Smash closes out this mini, two-song Astro Lounge jaunt with what is probably the best song on the album. As opposed to the previous song, this is clearly for the fans who have been with them since the beginning. The dirty guitars and explosive drums have everyone jumping. Some people are puzzling through the enigmatic, yet existential “Tell me why we’re all gluttons for pain.”

“Sister Psychic” (I’ll admit that this song is fan service for me. But do listen to it.) Some of the older fans can’t believe it. What a weird addition to an already great setlist. While it weeds out some of the bandwagon fans, everyone respects the song.

“You Are My Number One” Even though Get the Picture? is Smash Mouth’s sixth best album, they still need to play a few songs from the album for the sake of inclusion. But as good as the show has been so far, fans are more than willing to put up with it. And honestly, a mediocre Smash Mouth song is never really bad.

“Walkin’ on the Sun” The opening bars of this song elicit the biggest cheer as of yet. They have waited ten songs to play something from their first album. And what a number it is. One of the biggest hits of their career, they show off a bit, taking some wild, but effective departures from the studio version. This includes some banter and a lot of clapping, all over the emblematic bass line.

“Story of My Life” Still marketing the unfortunately under-published and underrated album, Summer Girl, the band works through this lead single. People respect the song, of course, but it is situated between two staples, to say the least. The reaction is middling compared to the preceding and proceeding numbers.

“All Star” Their most famous song off their most quintessential album. Some fans who thought they would never see it live are crying, and everyone--everyone--is singing along with every word.

“Stoned” By this point, the edgier fans remembering their hardcore days are thrilled. A deep cut from Astro Lounge, the stage is bathed in a purple glow and the venue is instantly a bit more relaxed.

“Pacific Coast Party” Once again, the band re-engages the party mode after the last laidback few minutes. People eat it up.

“Hot” Maybe you remember this fittingly-titled song from a Hot Wheels commercial? Either way, fans seem to love it. It appears another mosh pit has developed just off the right side of the stage.

“Can’t Get Enough of You Baby” This cover exemplifies the sultry side of Smash Mouth. Too cool to be sleazy, the band looks on as thousands of young women swoon under their appeal. In fact, this is probably wherein lies the bridge between Smash Mouth and the Beach Boys. Listen close around 1:30, if you don’t believe me.

“The Fonz” If you haven’t heard this song, seriously go listen to it. It rocks pretty hard. And the rest of the crowd knows it.

“Come On, Come On” Quite the dance-y hit. Everywhere you look, folks are air-drumming and yelling and jumping. Truly “another day in the sun / I’m having fun.”

“She Turns Me On” It’s clear now that Smash is just unleashing a frenzy of rocking songs, clearly gearing up these last half dozen for the finale. Nothing but thousands of people jumping and waving fists during this song.

“Flippin’ Out” J. Dash emerges for one more song. Taking center stage, just next to Steve, Dash spits a blistering rap. Younger fans love it, while old fans see the new age of Smash Mouth and nod appreciatively.

“I Just Wanna See” A song about youth. Fans who have been around since Astro Lounge light up and sing along, still remembering every word to the chorus. As the song ends, Kevin and Paul politely stand and wave to the crowd, who is riled up from this rendition. They exit to the left of the stage, and the lights dim to a soft red. Spotlights focus in on two stools that stagehands have swiftly brought out. Steve and Greg settle into the stools.

“Right Side, Wrong Bed” This is the best song Greg Camp has ever written, and subsequently, the reason I tried to send him a message on Myspace. For this version, it’s just Steve and Greg on stage. Greg has a neat acoustic guitar, and he looks reverently at Steve, who croons the words. The song fades out, and both men rise and wave, tears in their eyes. The applause is deafening. They walk off stage to chants: “Steve! Steve! Steve! Greg! Greg! Greg!” The lights dim completely.

“Why Can’t We Be Friends” After four full minutes, lights slowly fade up again. Cheers mount to a dull roar. The band re-takes their positions. Words cannot describe the emotions during the pseudo-ska intro. Quickly, they whirl into the fast-paced song about peace and love. The audience could not be happier.

“I’m A Believer” I know what you are thinking--another cover?! That’s right, but these are the two covers that they are most known for, and they get the already exhausted crowd dancing and singing along.

“Road Man” Everywhere, fans in the crowd are turning and looking at each other. They can’t believe it! A classic call-and-response, guaranteed to send people home happy. The crowd joins arms and begins to sway together as one. The band takes advantage of this song and jams for ten minutes, showcasing their respective talents. Some people hold back tears, but most are just overcome with joy. As the lights come back up, fans storm out to the parking lot, all abuzz, talking about the display they have just seen. As cars start to drive out, you point out a true fan, windows down, blaring The East Bay Sessions. You make eye contact with this person and nod knowingly, to which he smiles and nods back. What a magical night.

*     *     *

Of course, this evening exists only in my imagination. But, doesn’t it just sound like a dream come true?

Now, almost fifteen years later, my musical tastes have shifted slightly. I would say my tastes are now much broader. I mean, Smash Mouth still channel that “summer fun” spirit of the early Beach Boys3. Alas, they did not remain my favorite band all these years later. And that’s okay. Obviously, I’d be more concerned if my tastes didn’t change from when I was ten. But I still listen to Smash Mouth once in a while, if only to remember my childhood4.

Some people obsess over their favorite bands and create new tracklistings of albums or unreleased tracks, claiming that listening to them in a different order is integral to understanding. I think that’s great. That’s essentially what I did with this setlist, which I have worked and reworked a couple times now. I suggest putting these songs in this order on your iTunes and listening through (only pausing for the encore, of course). You will find they are special. It really kicks a weekend off well. Maybe one day I’ll sit down and add some fake crowd sounds to my setlist. But probably not because that would sound like garbage.

And to the band: thanks, guys, and keep the summer party alive.

1 I found Astro Lounge soon after. The trouble was finding Fush Yu Mang. Because of that pesky parental advisory sticker, I had to get it from a seedy pawnshop when I was 14.
2 It was also updated at the release of the newest album, which came out when this was still a work in progress.
3 In fact, why did they cover the Monkees and not the Beach Boys? I have a theory that Smash Mouth was right with the Beach Boys until 1967. Pet Sounds was the jumping off point for them; after that, they were just too experimental.
4 Can you believe the band is over twenty years old now? They seem to never age.